Why do I walk?

Health Benefits of a good Walk

I really don’t want to bother people with my personal life and I apologise in advance if you find this article boring. I’m going to tell you all about the benefits that walking can bring to your health, how good it is for the environment and how great it is for your social life too. So as they say if you don’t want to know the score, turn around now.

If you are still here I can only tell you that it started a while ago. Actually I can’t even remember when it started and neither can most people who were born on Earth and are fortunate enough to still have the use of their legs. However with age it seems that we tend to forget that we have legs. And you don’t have to be that old to do so. I was only in my twenties when I forgot to use them. However our body is a great thing and as ever if you start behaving in an odd manner that could harm it, it sends you signs (like shivering when you are cold, yawning when you are tired, coughing when you smoke too much or throwing up when you drink too much). What were the signs then? Well it’s simple, I got fat! That didn’t tell me much though because it’s the kind of sign you don’t really see or accept. That’s up until I got another sign sent from my body. This time it was from my legs, my knees actually. I kept complaining about pains in them especially while driving. So after a while, I finally went to the GP who referred me to a physiotherapist. The answer was simple: my muscles were not strong enough to accept the extra weight I had put on them over the past years! It was such a surprise because I didn’t think I was that overweight but that’s when I realised I weighed almost 95kgs (that’s 15 stones apparently). My physiotherapist told me to do some exercise to strengthen these muscles. She taught me some specific ones for my knees and I could do them at home. Easy peasy! To be fair it worked and the pain gradually disappeared but I have never been a gym-going type of person and turning into a Jane Fonda disciple didn’t really appeal to me. So what else could I do? That’s when I remembered I had some legs to walk with and I should use them to do so. So off I went for a walk. I have always been keen on walking but more the hiking side of it. I did quite a few long distance pathways in France and the UK before but it never crossed my mind that it could improve my health the way it did. By walking on a regular basis, in no time that extra fat melted away and subsequently that knee pain completely disappeared.

Social benefits of walking

Another side effect was that I discovered my surrounding area and started to really love it. When you walk you actually take time to see things around you and there is so much to see in Yorkshire. I started taking pictures of the landscape and quirky things standing in the background so I could find out more about them when I came back home. I know it might sound a bit geeky but I learned a lot at the end of the day about the place I live in and who knows it might be useful that knowledge one day in a local pub quiz. I’d find it hilarious if I could beat the locals 🙂 I must say it hasn’t been all in vain because ever since I started walking it made me think about a career change and how working in and for the Great Outdoors was what I really wanted to do. And that’s exactly what I managed to do when I started to work for Walk England. Moreover I am now sharing that “expertise” of using my legs and I am regularly leading walks as a volunteer for a local Walking for Health group at the National Trust East Riddlesden Hall, the Riddlesden Rambles. Walking for Health was an obvious choice for me as you might understand after reading this and the scheme is currently under transition from its current host Natural England. We should know by the end of March which organisation(s) will take the scheme under their umbrella. There are already some part fundings available thanks to Macmillan Cancer Support.  ‘Macmillan have offered to provide up to £1.89m over 3 years to support Walking for Health services in recognition of the benefits walking can bring to people living with and beyond cancer.  Macmillan would like Walking for Health to be integrated into cancer care during and after traditional cancer treatment.’ (Natural England) This move into cancer care would be an incredible result and proves that using your legs is not just an old fashioned way of moving around but can actually be used to improve your health even in the most extreme conditions such as cancer. I know some people who have/had cancer and I will be following this move really closely.

And before I leave you, yes walking is good for the environment too. I hate using my car for anything and everything especially short distance journeys. And think about it, it’s also good for your wallet. I spend less money on petrol, my car will probably live longer by using it less and lastly I even managed to reduce my car insurance premium by reducing the number of miles travelled!

Update: as of 1 April  2012, the Walking for Health scheme is now managed by a partnership between The Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support. After ten years of good work, we can now say farewell to Natural England and good luck to the new scheme holders. More info on Natural England 10 years work (from archive.org).

The website is now www.walkingforhealth.org.uk and the previous website www.wfh.naturalengland.org.uk will now redirect you to the new one

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